Call for action on Traveller rights ruling

Department of Justice and equality body clash over implications of EU judgment

The European Committee of Social Rights  on Monday ruled Travellers’ human rights were being violated in Ireland due to the ongoing failure to provide adequate accommodation. Photograph: Michaela Rehle/Reuters

The European Committee of Social Rights on Monday ruled Travellers’ human rights were being violated in Ireland due to the ongoing failure to provide adequate accommodation. Photograph: Michaela Rehle/Reuters

 

The Department of Justice and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) have clashed over whether a European ruling on Travellers’ rights being violated is legally binding.

The European Committee of Social Rights – which works under the Committee of Ministers and is part of the Strasbourg -based Council of Europe – yesterday ruled Travellers’ human rights were being violated in Ireland due to the ongoing failure to provide adequate accommodation.

The collective complaint, taken on behalf of the Irish Traveller Movement (ITM) by the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), argued the State was in breach of Article 16 of the European Social Charter, which protects the rights of the family.

The committee found violations in four respects – that there is not enough Traveller accommodation, that many Traveller sites are in an inadequate condition, that Irish law provides inadequate safeguards for Travellers threatened with eviction, and that evictions are carried out without necessary safeguards.

Cultural identity

IHREC chief commissioner Emily Logan said the ruling was legally binding and required an “urgent” response from Government.

“It will be important that the recommendations reflect the rights of Travellers not only to accommodation that is adequate, safe and contributes to social inclusion, but also to accommodation that respects Travellers’ cultural identity and their nomadic way of life,” Ms Logan said.

The commission said: “This case was taken under the European Social Charter, which Ireland has ratified, making it legally binding on the State.”

However, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said that while the State “takes the ruling, and our commitments under the revised European Social Charter, very seriously, the committee’s rulings are not legally binding. It should be noted this ruling is from a committee, not from a court.”

‘Justiciable’

A spokeswoman for the ITM agreed: “Strictly speaking the ruling is not legally binding.”

However, she said once the ruling is tested in an Irish court and the rights it upholds asserted, it will be legally binding. As such the ruling was “justiciable”, she said.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, which is responsible for Traveller housing, welcomed the ruling, “which is mostly favourable” and in particular the finding that the State was not in breach of Articles 17, 30 and E, which protect the rights of children, the right to be protected from poverty and the right to non-discrimination.

“The ECSR has found that Ireland is in violation of Article 16 on the grounds that there is a shortfall in sufficient accommodation for Travellers, despite the progress made.”

The State would “continue its efforts” to increase and improve Traveller accommodation provision “through the national and local consultation and collaborative structures in place”.

He said a formal response to the ruling was being drawn up and would be submitted to the Committee of Ministers “in due course”.